Battle Behind the Plate: Vanderbilt Baseball getting a boost from three talented catchers

Vanderbilt kicked off its 2019 Black and Gold scrimmage with a close 3-2 victory for Gold on Thursday night. (Hustler Multimedia/Brent Szklaruk)

Brent Szklaruk

Vanderbilt kicked off its 2019 Black and Gold scrimmage with a close 3-2 victory for Gold on Thursday night. (Hustler Multimedia/Brent Szklaruk)

Betsy Goodfriend, Senior Writer

In a trio of happy accidents, three of the most talented veteran catchers in college baseball found their homes behind the plate at Vanderbilt.

Stephen Scott said, “I started catching around 11 years old. I didn’t really get into it much until high school. I caught all four years in high school and played outfield over the summer. I filled in here when we had a couple of injuries over the fall, and we needed another catcher to scrimmage.”

Ty Duvall, now a full-time catcher, said, “I was an infielder from when I started playing to about 12. It kind of started by accident, where we were playing a lot of games in one weekend and our catcher was pretty beat up. They asked if anyone could catch, and I volunteered. I really liked it, so I’ve stuck with it ever since.”

Philip Clarke said, “I started playing catcher my junior year of high school because I hit left-handed and didn’t have a position. My coach was just like ‘you should try catcher.’ I played everywhere. I actually started at first base, but then I stopped growing, so I moved to shortstop, then I moved to the outfield, and I ended up at catcher.”

It’s rare for a team to have the level of depth at catcher that Tim Corbin’s Commodores has. With three veteran left-handed hitters and an exciting freshman in Dominic Keegan, Corbin can’t really go wrong with any option in the lineup. It’s a problem every college coach in the country would love to have, but for Corbin, it’s just part of the Vanderbilt experience.

Corbin said, “Someone is going to have to share. Someone is going to have to take a backseat at times. That’s what I expect them to do, and that’s what they expect each other to do.”

Photo by Brent Szklaruk

The senior Scott has seen both consistency and rotation at the position in his three-and-a-half years at Vanderbilt.

“My first two years here, we had Jason Delay, and he was pretty consistently our catcher,” said Scott. He continued, “Last year, it was pretty up in the air whether it was going to be me, Phil, or Ty.”

The 2018 season saw lots of shifting in the lineup, especially at catcher. Scott played 35 games behind the plate, Duvall started 15 games at catcher, and Clarke made 13 starts at catcher. When they weren’t catching, Scott played left field and designated hitter, Duvall often entered as a pinch hitter, and Clarke usually hit in the DH spot.

That versatility allows them to see more playing time, even if it’s not behind the plate.

Corbin said, “It’s just trying to get as many of those kids on the field as we can using the outfield spot, the catching spot, and the DH spot.”

In the Commodores’ opening series, Clarke started at catcher for all three games. Scott earned one start in left field and two starts at first base, and Duvall entered as a catcher and pinch hitter in two of the weekend’s games.

The freshman Keegan can’t be overlooked, either.

Corbin said, “Dominic, from a freshman standpoint, will probably have to watch a little longer, but I wouldn’t rule him out because he’s capable, too.”

The Vanderbilt baseball team plays Eastern Kentucky on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018. (Photo by Brent Szklaruk)

“There’s definitely a competitive nature between us, but at the same time, we’re all really close,” said Duvall. “We’re pushing each other, but there’s also a healthy, competitive aspect to it where we’re pushing each other, but at the same time, we’re also pulling for each other as much as we possibly can.”

Scott said, “We all know that at the end of the day, there’s going to be one catcher, but we’re all pushing each other and hoping for the best. We love seeing Phil throw out runners or Duvall back pick somebody or get a punchout on a tough pitch. We all love that, and Dom’s really done a great job of coming in and being a part of that. He’s really filled that role, and we’re excited for him, and we’re excited going forward to see who’s going to be the catcher.”

The competition has pushed each catcher to get better behind the plate in search of playing time on the top-ranked team in the country.

Duvall said, “I’ve really worked a lot over the summer and this fall on pitching calling, and I think I’ve been doing a better job at that. My strength is probably receiving and blocking.”

Clarke, who can also hit as the designated hitter, said, “I’ve been focusing on every pitch, just catching every pitch. Being quiet was a big thing [I worked on] as well as my throwing.”

As the season progresses, the competition will continue. Corbin is known for changing up lineups frequently to push his players to improve during the season. The quartet’s bond will only grow stronger with time.

“All of them are my best friends,” said Clarke. “It’s not very often that you get three very good left-handed catchers, and then you get Dom in there and you get to teach him. We mess around in the locker room. We go over signs. We do a lot of stuff, so it’s really fun.”